Illegal Arab building in Silwan, Jerusalem
Illegal Arab building in Silwan, Jerusalem Flash 90

Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem petitioned the Supreme Court on Sunday to reverse a lower court decision affirming the rights of Jewish owners over property in the Silwan neighborhood of the capital.

In the late 1800s, Jewish immigrants from Yemen were settled on land in the old Shiloach (Silwan) area of Jerusalem, near the Old City. The land was purchased on their behalf by Jewish donors, managed by the Benvenisti Trust.

During the 1948 War of Independence, the Jordanian Arab Legion expelled the Jewish residents of eastern Jerusalem, including the families living on property owned by the Benvenisti Trust.

Since the 1980s, the Ateret Cohanim organization has sought to redeem property in and around the Old City, including real estate owned by Jews but occupied by Arabs following the 1948 war.

While Ateret Cohanim has managed to recover some of the property taken from Jewish residents in 1948, lengthy legal battles have hampered efforts to redeem homes owned by the Benvenisti Trust.

One section of Silwan (Shiloach), known as the Batan al-Hawa area, was owned by the trust, which through Ateret Cohanim sought to remove Arab squatters from its properties.

A decision by the Justice Ministry sixteen years ago affirmed the Benvenisti Trust’s ownership of the property, which was released to Ateret Cohanim. Despite appeals by the squatters, lower court rulings have upheld the Justice Ministry’s decision.

Nevertheless, 104 squatters from Batan al-Hawa, representing roughly 70 different families living in the area, filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, with a hearing slated on Sunday.

The residents have called on the court to reverse the lower courts’ decisions and reject the Justice Ministry’s affirmation of the Benvenisti Trust’s ownership of Batan al-Hawa.

Despite the trust’s purchase of the land more than a century ago, the squatters have demanded they be awarded ownership of the property, arguing that the initial land purchase only provided the trust with the right to build on the land – not full ownership.